The other day, a fellow coach asked how my prior consulting experience influenced my perspective and ability as a coach. Hmmm, I thought. Has it? As coaches, we love powerful questions and this was a good one.
In general, I’m used to answering the more common question of how I made the transition from consulting to coaching. I get that question frequently from individuals contemplating a career change, and it has become an easy answer.
After earning my coaching certification, I kept my job as a full-time consultant and started small in my spare time—doing pro bono work, coaching other new coaches and being coached in return (a bartering type of arrangement), and finding an unpaid part-time internship to add experience to my resume. When the timing was right from a personal and professional standpoint, I took a leap of faith and haven’t looked back.
Sure, there’s coaching value that can be gleaned from this response (e.g. being proactive, building your resume, identifying the right timing, practicing your craft, etc.). But the question of how consulting has influenced my perspective and ability as a coach required much more thought. After several days of pondering, I found that it’s also a more fruitful response.
Overall, consulting taught me nearly everything I know professionally. I supported at least five different government agencies and multiple departments within those agencies. I also worked as an internal consultant, providing human resource support to senior leaders. Consulting afforded me the opportunity to gain countless skills—some of the most important being customer service excellence, networking, entrepreneurship, teamwork, patience, assertiveness, project/time management, and presentation skills.
As it turns out, these skills have quite a bit to do with my ability to coach individuals. Here are some examples:
Customer service excellence – As a consultant, I would lose my customer if I wasn’t meeting (and striving to surpass) his expectations. If I’m not sure what will make my client happy, I need to ask questions and become very clear about the end goals before I complete a project that misuses money and resources. Budgets get cut, organizations re-align, missions get changed – and it’s the consultant’s job to go with the flow and deal with unexpected challenges. Similarly, as a coach, I ask powerful questions and help clients identify solutions tailored to their unique needs. I’m not focused on my agenda—I’m focused on my client’s agenda. I continually ask clients what I can do to better support them, how I can be a more effective coach, and whether they’re seeing benefits from our coaching partnership.
Networking (and being proactive!) – Consultants build their network of colleagues, managers, and clients within and across organizations to land new project work and extend/maintain current work. And they actively keep in touch with those individuals. Networking is probably the most important skill (aside from customer service) that every consultant needs to demonstrate to be successful. Likewise, career coaches help their clients learn to network so that clients find the right jobs more quickly and efficiently. Let’s face it—the days of monster.com and careerbuilder.com are long gone. Research demonstrates that about 70%-80% of available jobs aren’t even advertised! How are 100% of individuals going to get hired when they are sitting behind a computer emailing job applications out for only 20%-30% of the job openings? The successful jobseekers learn to network to gain meaningful employment.
Teamwork – In consulting, teamwork is essential to uncovering solutions to difficult problems, meeting tight deadlines, and getting the job done. It requires that all members hold each other accountable and respect each other as individuals so that space is created for idea generation. In coaching, teamwork is an important part of establishing a trusted coach-client relationship. A coach helps empower the client to create solutions to problems and challenges him to think in new and different ways. If you didn’t think a team of two could be effective, just look at peanut butter and jelly, bread and butter, or a hamburger and fries!
Entrepreneurship – In consulting, you use entrepreneurial skills to help your clients find novel solutions, develop business models, identify their brand, create work plans, and acquire project resources. As a coach, I use entrepreneurial skills to help clients think outside the box, create goals and action plans, and practice marketing/selling themselves to hiring managers or other leaders.
Through 11 years of consulting, I’ve seen organizations grow and shrink. I’ve experienced budget surpluses and budget cuts. I’ve spent time traveling and sitting in a cubicle. Recounting these experiences, I know that I will use my consulting skills for the rest of my life. Consulting has made me a better and more effective coach, and for that I am grateful.